Ease of obtaining butane, sniffing inhalents is big issue
A Wainuiomata teenager who died from huffing is among the deaths highlighted by a Wellington coroner in a report into the hidden addiction problem.
Coroner Neil MacLean released the report on recreational butane inhalation on Thursday, saying it has led to 63 deaths in the past 12 years.
Of those, three quarters were males. Almost half were Maori, 55 were youths and the youngest was a 12-year-old boy.
"Several coroners have expressed concerns regarding the availability of inhalants from retailers and have commented on the need for regulation," Mr MacLean said.
"The difficulty is that most of the common inhalants are everyday household products."
He called for a Government investigation into possible actions and a multi-agency approach.
"I think there are a lot of people out there anxious to do something and they may need legislative backing."
The death of Wainuiomata teen Nikora Birch was highlighted in the report. Birch was 16 when his body was found beside Black Creek in October 2010. He had been inhaling butane there the night before, and a friend said he had been using it almost every day.
The chief executive of Hutt- based youth alcohol and drug service WellTrust, Murray Trenberth, said while 680 youth were known to have tried huffing in the Wellington region in the last year it is hard to get an accurate idea of how many people use butane as it is largely an experimental drug.
"It's a bit more prevalent than people realise.
"In general, inhaling is the first drug people try because there's a hell of a range and they are all round the house or garage - and that's why they are dangerous.
Most people don't enjoy the sensation from huffing and don't become repeat users, he said. But "it's probably the most dangerous drug in the sense that every time they use it they risk death.
"We have about 6-7 deaths a year [nationally] from huffing, as we do from somebody having too much alcohol."
Huffing can lead to immediate death as the heart's rhythm is interrupted, it can cause suffocation as the gas replaces oxygen in the bloodstream, or it can cause longlasting damage to the nervous system and other organs. Some substances can result in serious frostbite damage to the user as the propellant plunges in temperature when sprayed.
A campaign by Wellington politician Mark Blumsky about three years ago resulted in many large hardware stores changing the way they display and sold solvents, Mr Trenberth said. However, some smaller retailers are not as responsible.
Butane and other commonly huffed substances should not be in clear sight, certainly not in places it can easily be shoplifted, and retailers should be cautious about selling to young people or those they suspect of drug use, he said.
WellTrust clinical team leader Jo Claridge says incidents of huffing have surfaced several times in Wainuiomata in particular, in the last few years.
"Usually I find that [repeat users] are the ones that are troubled and have had some significant problems in their life.
"They need to be educated about it to tell them what harm huffing can cause, and education with the family about what chemicals are at home that can be used for huffing, and what can be done about that."
Knowledge of huffing is spread through urban mythology, but young people don't have all the information about its dangers.
So education and parental awareness is key to stopping dangerous experimentation, she says.
For help or support, contact: DrugHelp 0800 787 797, Lifeline 0800 543 354, Poisons Centre 0800 POISON, Youthline 0800 37 66 33.
- Hutt News